JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez has our immigration stories tonight.
RAY SUAREZ: Just as Congress is divided over how to reform the laws of immigration, so is the public, according to a poll released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Its primary finding shows that, while a majority of Americans agree that illegal immigration is a problem, they're split over how to solve it. Joining us from Los Angeles is the director of the Pew Hispanic Center, Roberto Suro.
And those deep divisions, Roberto, are they seen all across the country, sort of no matter what region you live in?
ROBERTO SURO, Director, Pew Hispanic Center: Yes. To some extent or another, this is the ambivalence, the splits over how to evaluate the effects of immigration, what to do about it, are pretty much across the board.
The emphasis is different in different parts of the country and, to some extent, among different segments of the population. But overall, you see a nation that is divided on this issue.
RAY SUAREZ: Was that also true, the divisions, that is, along political party lines?
ROBERTO SURO: Interestingly, the straight partisan allegiances to Democrat, Republican, independent aren't the most forceful splits that we see in the poll responses. Ideological leanings are more important.
Both parties have conservatives who are more concerned about immigration. Liberal Democrats favor more open policies, less restrictive policies. And so there are divisions within both of the party coalitions on this issue along ideological grounds.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the questions you asked people was how the government should respond, how we should cut down or end illegal immigration. What did people tell you?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, when we asked them what strategies would be most effective and gave them choices of some of the things that Congress is thinking about, a near majority favored stricter penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
A smaller number favored increasing the number of Border Patrol agencies, and a fairly small share said that they favored building more fence along the border. The emphasis was clearly on increasing the enforcement in the workplace.
RAY SUAREZ: What about when you asked them how the people who are already here should be handled?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, that's where you really see the nation quite starkly divided among the sort of three basic options that Congress is considering.
Either, on the one hand, to let them stay permanently, it garners about a third of population. A temporary worker program, which again has the backing, perhaps, of about a third. Or make them leave, which is favored by about 27 percent of the public.
And those splits are evident, really, in all segments of the population. We see among conservatives greater support for a temporary work program; among liberals, more support for letting them stay here. But in virtually every segment of the population, you see a deeply divided opinion over what to do about this population.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the results that caught my eye -- you've been asking some of these questions for years, and it seems like the public's attitude about whether wide-open immigration is a good thing, whether it strengthens America or whether it creates burdens for the country, seems to be heading in one direction.
ROBERTO SURO: Yes, I mean, concerns are increasing, and there are more people saying that immigration is a problem than before. But there are interesting countervailing trends, as well. I mean, in terms of evaluating immigrants themselves, views are more positive, even as people are expressing more concern about immigration as a policy.
RAY SUAREZ: And what do you mean by that? You mean, like when you ask them about the immigrants they know, people will endorse them as hard-working or...
ROBERTO SURO: Yes, we just ask about, you know, immigrants from Latin America or Asia in general and ask, you know, are they hard-working, do they have good family values, things like that. The positive responses are increasing. Now they're higher than they have been in the past, markedly, even as the levels of concern are increasing.
RAY SUAREZ: What about when you ask people what effect illegal immigration or immigration in general has on the job market?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, you know, a question that's very significant in the policy debate now is: What kinds of jobs are taken by illegal immigrants?
And the basic question that's been asked now for 20 years is whether they take jobs from American citizen or whether they take jobs that Americans don't want. About two-thirds of the public now says that they take jobs that Americans don't want, and that's significantly higher than it has been any time in the past.
So more people, even as concerns are increasing, there are more people who have the feeling that illegal immigrants are taking jobs that people here don't want.
RAY SUAREZ: Roberto Suro from the Pew Hispanic Center, thanks for being with us.
ROBERTO SURO: It's a pleasure. Thank you.